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A carer’s perspective

Did I have a strategy? No! Did I have an action plan? No! Did I have a contingency plan? No! What an unusual situation since I was working, albeit unpaid, for one of the largest organisations in the UK. I was a carer for someone diagnosed with severe clinical depression that lasted, in total, for seven years.

It was my first experience of dealing with a mental health issue. When I was younger I heard my parents and other adults make reference to someone ‘suffering with their nerves’ but I had no idea what was meant by the term. As a result, one of the biggest challenges I faced was trying to deal with the total unknown.

So often I had to think on my feet when dealing with the intense symptoms of depression and the constant, daily need for reassurance. I found myself searching for answers on the internet and emailing people I’d never met to try and keep a step ahead, especially in the reassurance game, ever mindful of the negative effect one wrong comment would have.

A carer’s job is 24/7

Mental illness doesn’t cease when the sufferer goes to sleep – quite the reverse! As a result, another difficulty I faced was sleep deprivation. Although medication helped I would often be woken at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, with Clive needing to talk, and me having to calm his intense anxiety by continually reassuring him of an eventual recovery.

Certain friends and family were very supportive and without them I would have struggled to remain strong. Others, unfortunately, were not so helpful, maintaining that to see Clive would be too distressing for them, or that they had heard he wanted no contact with people. What about me?!

Our doctor at the time was tremendous in his support and concern for me. However, one of the big problems I found was the lack of ‘out of hours’ support. Mental illness doesn’t just manifest itself between the hours of 9 and 5 each day, and when a crisis occurs during the early hours of the morning or late at night it can be extremely frightening when you don’t know where to turn.

Caring for somebody with a mental illness can also be a very isolating and lonely experience. On one occasion I resorted to telephoning Samaritans just to hear the voice of another human being.

People often asked me if I was frightened. The answer to that was – very! However, I could never show my fear of concern of the situation because it would have exacerbated and intensified the condition for Clive. Although I was not experiencing the awful feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and dread that Clive felt, I still ‘walked the walk’ with him and had to deal with my feelings in silence. Trying to keep upbeat and positive for much of the time was hard.

A moment with Mair

My advice to others

Having been through the experience of being a carer I can definitely say that it has made me a stronger person. In hindsight, I would not try to handle the situation alone if I were ever to encounter it again.

My advice to anybody who finds themselves caring for somebody with a mental illness is to never cut themselves off and attempt to cope alone. Join a group with other carers – you’ll stay up to date with the latest developments and the support and friendship you’ll find is invaluable. Talking to people who are experiencing similar circumstances and understand your situation is so cathartic.

It is time for carers of people with mental illnesses to be given recognition – the recognition they so rightly deserve. Carers are the hidden angels and are so often overlooked and dismissed. Let’s not forget, as a recent report disclosed, they save this country somewhere in the region of £1.4bn.

A wider view

According to Carer’s UK there are around 1.5 million people caring for a partner, relative or friend with a mental health condition in the UK. The pressure and time commitment that comes with this responsibility can lead to financial hardship, health problems and social isolation for carers.

It is often a challenge to work full-time and a third of carers admit struggling to meet basic living costs. These financial pressures, added to the distress of seeing a loved one struggling can be very stressful and lead to health issues for the carers themselves, who may put off treatment due to their caring commitment.

Help and support for carers

  • Hafal provide a range of support and advice for mental health carers in Wales including advocacy, breaks and mutual support.
  • Carer’s UK can help with information on policy, local services and support groups in your local area.
  • Mind has a useful guide to coping as a carer, with some useful self-help tools.

This blog was originally published in July 2015, and updated in June 2017. 

Mair

Mair helped care for her husband Clive, an NCMH Research Champion, while he was experiencing severe clinical depression.

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